My dear travelers and fans of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of long-awaited travelogues from China on the Mr.M blog. The month of May will be dedicated to one of the cradles of human civilization and a country with thousands of years of written history – China. At the very beginning of today’s travelogue, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China and the leading Turkish airline Turkish Airlines for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this May were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.
If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues or want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:
- Letters from China: Explore the Peal of the Far East with Turkish Airlines
- Letters from China: The Peninsula Beijing, explore the first luxury hotel in the heart of Beijing
- Letters from China: Tiananmen Square, let’s explore The Gate of Heavenly Peace together
Today we will explore together the complex of imperial religious buildings that form the heart of the capital of China and where numerous historical events took place that changed the history of this unusual Far East country.
The Temple of Heaven is a complex of imperial religious buildings located in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of praying to Heaven for a good harvest. The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and is described as a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design that simply and graphically illustrates the cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s greatest civilizations. The symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven has had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East to this day.
Let’s take a look together through the interesting history of this imperial religious complex. The temple complex was built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, who was also responsible for building the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was expanded and renamed the Temple of Heaven during the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the 16th century.
JiaJing also built three other prominent temples in Beijing, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Earth, and the Temple of the Moon. The Temple of Heaven was rebuilt in the 18th century during the Qianlong Emperor. The state budget was insufficient at the time, so this was the last extensive restoration of the temple complex during the reign of the emperors.
The temple was captured by the Anglo-French alliance during the Second Opium War. Later, in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight-Nation Alliance seized the temple complex and turned it into a temporary headquarters for forces in Beijing for a period of one year. With the fall of the Qing, the temple complex fell into disrepair. Neglect of the temple complex led to the collapse of several halls in the following years.
Later, in 1914, Yuan Shikai, then President of the Republic of China, performed a Ming prayer ceremony at the temple, as part of an effort to declare himself Emperor of China. In 1918, the temple was turned into a park and opened to the public for the first time.
This imperial religious complex is imposing and large as the temple area alone covers 2.73 square kilometers of parkland and consists of three main buildings, all of which were built according to strict requirements:
The Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest is a magnificent circular building with three gables, 36 meters in diameter and 38 meters high, built on three levels of a marble stone base, where the emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, without nails. The original building burned down in a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was rebuilt a few years after the incident.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is a circular building with one gable, built on one level from a marble stone foundation. It is located south of the House of Prayer for Good Harvests and resembles it, but is smaller. It is surrounded by a smooth circular Echo Wall, which can transmit sounds over long distances. The Imperial Vault is connected to the Hall of Prayer by the Vermilion Steps Bridge, an elevated walkway 360 meters long that slowly ascends from the vault to the Hall of Prayer. The dome for this building also has no cross beams to support the dome.
The Circular Mound Altar is a preaching altar, located south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stone, each decorated with elaborately carved dragons. The numbers of the various elements of the altar, including its balusters and steps, are either nine, a sacred number in Chinese culture, or symbols of eternity. The center of the altar is a round slab called the Heart of Heaven or Supreme Yang, where the emperor prayed for favorable weather. Thanks to the design of the altar, the sound of the prayer will reflect off the guardrail, creating a significant resonance, which was supposed to help the prayer communicate with Heaven. The altar was built by Emperor Jiajing in 1530, and rebuilt in 1740.
It is also still customary for the Chinese to pray at this circular altar, where they pray and by turning around their axis, they believe that they are in direct contact with the cosmos and that their prayers will be answered.
How was the prayer ceremony performed in imperial China? In ancient China, the Chinese emperor was considered the Son of Heaven, who governed earthly affairs on behalf of and represented the heavenly authority. It was extremely important to be seen as showing respect for the source of his authority in the form of sacrifices to heaven. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly with prayers for good harvests.
Twice a year, the emperor and all his retinue would travel from the Forbidden City through Beijing to encamp inside the compound, wearing special robes and abstaining from meat during the ceremonial process. No ordinary Chinese were allowed to see this procession or the following ceremony.
In the temple complex, the Emperor personally prayed to Heaven for good harvests. The culmination of the rite at the time of the winter solstice was performed by the emperor on the earthly mountain. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed, as it was widely believed that the slightest mistake would portend a bad omen for the entire nation in the coming year.
This temple has a special symbolism and I will try my best to explain it to you, since the guide was talking too fast, for the first time I have to keep an audio diary myself to fully understand the meaning of this place. According to ancient Chinese belief, earth was represented by a square and Heaven by a circle, several features of the temple complex symbolize the connection of Heaven and Earth, the circle and the square. The entire temple complex is surrounded by two cordon walls; the outer wall has a taller, semicircular northern end, representing Heaven, and a shorter, rectangular southern end, representing Earth.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Circular Mound Altar are round, each standing on a square courtyard, again representing heaven and earth. The number nine represents the Emperor and is evident in the design of the circular mound altar: one round marble slab is surrounded by a ring of nine slabs, then a ring of 18 slabs, and so on with a total of nine surrounding rings, the outermost with 9×9 slabs.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has four inner, twelve middle and twelve outer pillars, representing the four seasons, twelve months and twelve traditional Chinese hours. Combined, the twelve middle and twelve outer pillars represent the traditional solar terms.
All buildings within the Temple have special dark blue roof tiles, which represent Heaven. The seven-star stone group, east of the Good Harvest Prayer Hall, represents the seven peaks of Mount Taishan, a place of heaven worship in classical China. There are four main supporting, dragon pillars each representing a season. The structure, held by these dragons, imitates the style of an ancient Chinese royal palace. The twelve inner pillars symbolize the lunar months, and the twelve outer pillars are thought to refer to the 12 two-hour periods of the day.
Attributes such as the appearance of the landscape and the originality of the historical building have been preserved either as originally built or reconstructed in the Qing Dynasty. Management and maintenance are carried out strictly in accordance with the records in historical literature and archaeological evidence, in order to preserve the historical condition, while the exhibitions held here regularly are also organized to reflect the authenticity of this imperial religious complex.
The general layout and architectural features of the estate clearly demonstrate traditional Chinese philosophical ideas, cosmogony, sacrificial rituals, and scientific and artistic achievements, as well as truly reflect the political and cultural concepts and historical characteristics of the time.
The surrounding park surrounding this religious imperial complex is quite extensive, with the entire complex covering 267 hectares (660 hectares in total). Some of them consist of playgrounds, exercise and game areas. These facilities are used by adults as well as parents and grandparents who bring their children to play. Some of the open spaces and side buildings are often used, especially in the morning, for choir performances, ethnic dances and other festive events.
In the following travelogues, you will get to know some of the famous sights such as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China… I am sure that this will be one of the most interesting adventures that you have had the opportunity to see so far on the Mr.M blog and will not leave you indifferent. .
My dear adventurers, we have come to the end of this fourth special travelogue in the series of travelogues about distant China where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the heart of East Asia. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China, the world airline company Turkish Airlines and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions about this unusual experience from China with Turkish Airlines.
A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.
I am honored to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank Turkish Airlines once again for this amazing adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Far Eastern culture in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about China and the presentation of the The Temple of Heaven, which adorns the heart of this unusual capital of this interesting country in East Asia? Have you had a chance to visit China so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
In the following stories from China, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey leads you to this capital of this ancient faraway country!
With Love from Beijing,
This post is sponsored by world airline Turkish Airlines, Visit China and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.